Despite its many imperfections, the moment I walked into the cozy old house, I knew it would be mine. Built in 1989, it had all sorts of issues despite having been loved by the single previous owner for 30 years. At less than half the price of the home I was moving out of after my divorce, it was, inarguably, a pretty major downgrade.
The crumbling backyard fence, the roof, the air conditioner—each would need replacing in the next five years. But the kitchen, I was sure, would be my biggest expense in terms of getting the house “to my standards.” The cabinets had that tell-tale ’80s cream-colored veneer with the strip of wood on the bottom acting as a pull. The appliances were original too. Remember the wood-look veneer that was a popular decorative touch to all ’80s appliances? These appliances had those. The stovetop had the swirly metal burners, and the refrigerator was just like the one from my childhood—a Hot Point with a leathery-looking beige coating, metal and wood-veneer handles, and an ice maker that crapped out long ago. The dishwasher was a General Electric, same as the oven, with the same wood paneling embellishments as the refrigerator.
So, updating the kitchen would be an expense. I figured I’d have to live with the cabinets for a while because I wouldn’t be able to afford to replace them right away, but the appliances, at least, would have to go immediately.
Well, it’s been almost a year and a half since I moved in, and the old appliances are still here. Not because I haven’t gotten around to it or because I blew my budget, but I just… I don’t want to. There isn’t actually anything wrong with the appliances, so I just can’t bring myself to trash them. Sometimes water pools in the bottom of the fridge, but even that is a sporadic enough event that it doesn’t warrant purchasing an entire new refrigerator and sending this perfectly functional one to the dump.
And what if I were to purchase a new refrigerator? I’d have to purchase all the other appliances too, because it would look weird having a modern refrigerator and the rest of the appliances circa 1988. I considered buying a whole new set—I did have money set aside for this purpose—but when I imagine putting stainless steel or even something more plain but still modern in this vintage kitchen, it just feels wrong.
The truth is, I’ve developed an attachment to this ugly, outdated kitchen. I know it’s just a room filled with inanimate material objects, but it feels like it’s trying to teach me something. Maybe that’s the guilt from my divorce talking—maybe I need to anthropomorphize household appliances in order to assuage the feelings I have about coming out at age 39 and turning my family’s life upside down.
Prior to my divorce, I was in a constant state of self-remodeling. Get rid of the unseemly, the outdated, and replace it with what magazines and home decor shows and professional decorators say is trending right now. Install a beautiful, tidy life that everyone approves of. I decorated my previous home, a new construction, with a modern, minimalist hotel vibe. White bed linens, white curtains, white towels. No tchotchke. A light, airy, open space, easy on the color. Cool granite countertops against dark, Shaker style cabinets. No photos or kitschy magnets on the front of the refrigerator.
I persuaded my ex to buy that big, modern house, subconsciously hoping that all those clean, modern lines would calm the absolute disaster that was happening on my insides. If you can’t be gay, at least you can have a house that looks perfect. We installed a stunning pool, a fence, gutters, a surround sound system.
That house was and is perfect. So fucking perfect. When I return to it, I feel such a tornado of emotions that I can hardly identify any of them. Guilt, regret, shame, longing. Gratitude, relief, and a different brand of shame—shame that it took me so long to admit to myself and everyone else what was really going on. Shame that I tried to use material possessions to feel better. Shame that I dragged my family with me on that fruitless journey.
There isn’t actually anything wrong with my kitchen, other than the fact that it doesn’t present in a way that most of mainstream society says it should. Not only is there nothing wrong with it, but in many ways it is superior to the “perfect” kitchen in the “perfect” house for which I so meticulously selected every detail. The water pressure is better. The oven heats even hotter than it says it does. The rack in the new dishwasher in the new house began to rust after only a year; here in my vintage kitchen the original rack is still in perfect condition. It’s true that they just don’t make things like they used to.
Here in my vintage house, the timer on the kitchen stovetop, when it buzzes, turns me into a 12-year-old home for the summer with my sister by ourselves cooking mac-and-cheese for lunch. The great room’s popcorn ceiling may be cracked in places, but it’s vaulted and somehow makes the space feel open and cozy at the same time. The two sets of sliding glass doors overlook a sunroom that faces north and allows the room to fill with soft light from sunup to sundown. The house smells like Thanksgiving no matter what time of year it is. I “downgraded” into a place where I can stop obsessing about fixing things that are secretly broken inside of me by fixing everything outside of me.
I know it’s just a house. I know it’s just a kitchen, just appliances, just ceilings and walls and windows. But this worn-out old house, and all the old things in it, have become a reminder for me about the immeasurable value of honesty, about how sometimes being honest with yourself isn’t pretty, sometimes isn’t at all what you thought you wanted, and definitely doesn’t look shiny and new. Honesty doesn’t always look like a decorator magazine, but it’s solid, reliable, and does the job it promises.